At 21 years of age, Manny Machado‘s rise into stardom is undeniable, even after suffering what appeared to be a catastrophic knee injury last September against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The rush of young, supremely talented players has given Major League baseball fans a look to the future with stars like Machado, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers and Yasiel Puig.
Machado has played in 207 games, not quite two full seasons in the majors, but his impact on this Orioles ball club is felt in a major way. With his call up in August of 2012, he immediately solidified the O’s infield with his stellar play at 3rd base, successfully transitioning from shortstop. He even contributed with his bat in a positive way, driving in 26 runs with 18 extra-base hits in just 51 games.
His 2013 season was another step forward, playing 156 games and leading the majors with 51 doubles. Meanwhile, his defense continued to shine, winning Platinum Glove honors, leading the A.L. in fielding percentage (.973) and a range factor of 3.02. His 35 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2013 was also an A.L. high and fourth in the majors overall.
He’s still very young with only 912 plate appearances, but can Manny Machado put himself into a category not many how found themselves in; The Next Face Of Baseball?
It could happen.
Will it happen? Not likely. Could he be one of three or four players who become household names in the near future? Absolutely.
Last season, Machado finished with an 100 OPS+, one of just 44 players in major league history younger than 20 who qualified for the batting title. According to SI.com’s Jay Jaffe, nineteen of those 44 players are in the Hall of Fame, a truly incredible feat when you think of the enormity.
This isn’t a knock on Machado at all. Moreover, it’s the unknown of how Manny’s talent will develop in the coming years. It’s certainly off to a good start as his first full season produced an All-Star appearance, a gold glove (in addition to said platinum glove) and finishing ninth in A.L. MVP voting.
Machado’s frame will continue to fill out and maybe now a blessing in disguise having totally reinvented himself in the way he runs and having more of a focus on building strength in his lower body. Not only will it help with the rigors of a 162-game schedule, but being stronger overall will likely see his power numbers soar.
Many comparisons have been made to his mentor and friend Alex Rodriguez, who in his age 22 season with the Seattle Mariners in 1998, had a stat line of .310/42/124 and slugged .560.
I don’t see Machado quite having a season like that, not yet at least while continuing to get back to full strength following the knee injury.
What will be fun is watching Machado’s career ascend at the same time as say, Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton.
Trout at age 22 has established himself as one of the game’s best already. He’s reinventing the new hybrid of player; power, speed (86 steals in 336 games) and a patient eye (lead majors last season with 110 walks), oh, and he finished second in A.L. MVP in back-to-back seasons at age 20 and 21. Not too shabby.
Giancarlo Stanton is on another planet with his power prowess, perhaps the best pure power hitter in all of baseball. His age 22 season with the Miami Marlins in 2012 saw him hit 34 home runs, bat .290 and lead the majors in slugging at .608. He became one of three players ever to hit 90 home runs by age 22, joining Alex Rodriguez in 1998 and Bob Horner in 1980. Beyond that, his cannon of an arm in right field is incredible, and yet at 6 feet, 6 inches, 240 some-odd pounds, is fleet of foot, too.
Perhaps, once Machado begins to hit baseballs out of the park much like Trout and Stanton, he could find himself in this discussion. His defense right now has him on the map for this one day at least.
For now, let’s sit back and watch Machado continue to blossom and be thankful the Baltimore Orioles drafted a kid with talent seeping out of his pores, who could break records with the number of Gold Gloves he attains, who can be a major part of the reason why the O’s could win it all before long.
If that makes him the face of baseball one day, it’ll be the icing on the cake.